In the summer, every kid in my village would hangout above the weir, where the water was deep and slow. Spending long lazy days taking cooling dips in the cold river water. There was a rope hanging from a branch and we would take turns launching ourselves out over the water. Some of the biggest kids had it down to a fine art. They would run hard, letting go of the rope at just the right point, sending them flying impossibly high in the air, seeming to stall before gracefully dropping into the water. They’d stroke back to the shore, under a cloak of hero worship, from us lesser mortals.
One day, Tommy and his gang came biking down the street in a V formation. Tommy was in the middle, his hair slick with hair gel, sweating in the black leather biker jacket. A folded playing brushed the spokes of his wheel and rattled like a machine gun. They threw their bikes into the long grass basicly took over the weir, pushing others out of the way as they took over the swing.
Tommy stripped to his swimming trunks and grabbed the rope. He ran, but still only managed a feeble swing, hardly getting him clear of the bank before he let go. He spun, like a fat white starfish, and landed with the most painful looking belly flop…ever. Everyone laughed, me more than most. Tommy struggled out of the river, glowing red with embarrassment. He stopped in front of me and said. "What are you laughing at, Dumbo?"
"You did a belly flop," I said, rubbing salt in his open wound.
"You're too scared to even try it," Tommy said, with rage in his voice.
"I'm not," I said. "Anyone could do what you just did."
"Prove it," he said, wrapping himself in a towel to hide his glowing pink belly.
"I will so," I said getting to my feet intending on trying the swing dive.
"That's too easy, get dressed, I’ve something better for you," he said, smiling at his group of goons.
Like I said earlier, most of the time I hated Tommy, but here was my chance to prove myself. I just had to take it.
When we were dressed, we rounded up our bikes and cycled off into the countryside. After nearly an hour, mostly up hill, my legs were getting sore.
"Where are we going, Tommy?" I asked, trying to keep the whine out of my voice.
"We're nearly there, only a few minutes more," he said, smiling over his shoulder at me. You would have sworn he was actually nice. A few minutes later, we dismounted and pushed our bikes through the knee-high grass. We entered a glade which ended in a giant stone buttress. It reared out of the ground like the bow of a mighty ship. At the base was a small opening.
Tommy faced me, like a headmaster addressing his class. "What we're going to show you is top secret," he said. "Only members of our club have ever been inside to see the bones. Do you accept this challenge?"
I was scared but more than anything, I wanted my cousin Tommy to like me. I stood taller and said, "I do."
From under a pile of rocks, Tommy scooped a battered biscuit tin. Inside were a dozen candles and a pile of match boxes. Tommy handed each of us a bunch of candles and a box of matches. Following the lead of the others, I put all but one candle into my pocket and lit the one I held, cupping a hand around the flickering flame, protecting it from the gentle summer breeze. Tommy ducked into the opening, followed by his friends with me in last place.
Under my hands, the rocks were slippery. The passage angled down sharply, the stone roof just inches above my head. I climbed and scrambled over boulders, following the light of the boys strung out in front of me. Soon, the only light visible came from the procession of candles. I felt the cave growing around me, rather than seeing it. No longer did the sides of the tunnel rub my shoulders, the glow of the candles no longer reflected off glistening rocks, it just died away in the never-ending darkness. Down and down we ventured, mainly in a straight line. We were all walking upright now, with lots of room overhead, the floor levelled out and became a smoothly polished grove in the earth. At last, we reached a part of the cave that echoed like a cathedral.
Tommy and his friends formed a tight circle around me, the flickering of their candles making horror masks of their faces.
"No one has been in this cave for hundreds of years, except us," he said.
"Is this where the bones are? Is it an accent bear, or even a wolf?" I wondered, getting excited about seeing them. "Where are the bones?" I asked Tommy.
"The only bones in here will be yours, if you can’t find your way out," he said, shoving me to the ground. My candle spilt out of my hand and quenched on the wet floor. The others sprinted away, howling and shouting in the darkness, taking the light with them. I scrabbled around on my hands and knees, searching cold floor until my finger brushed the warm, soft wax of the candle. I dug the matches from my pocket, and only then, remembered the spare candles I’d had all the time. Shouts echoed all around me, they could have coming from beside me, or miles away. In the complete darkness, I couldn't tell. I struck a match and lit my candle then turned in circles, looking for something I would recognise, but every rock looked like the next.
I thought I could make out the grove of the path, and having no other choice, I started to follow it. Just then, the shouting stopped, not faded out, just stopped. With no idea whether I was going further into the cave, or back for the entrance, I blundered on. I thought I heard voices but they were very faint. Tommy and his friends must be watching me panic, they would surely come and get me.
Time passed, but no one came. I couldn’t just wait here forever. I had to do something, so I pushed on through the dark, guided by the weak light of my candle. I just wanted out of this place.
Soon, my candle burned down, and died. I had to light another one. It seemed like I had only just done that, when I needed to light my last one. I realized by rushing forward the flame was fluttering in the wind, making the wax melt faster than if I walked. My last candle was dwindling when I felt the floor begin to slope upwards. I must have found my way back to the entrance. With tremendous relief I rushed forward, following the grove in the earth as it rose, climbing over boulders and rocks towards, each step taking me closer to safety. The candle burnt down to my fingers and I had to drop it. I felt my way forward on my hands and knees, inching along, finding my way by my fingertips.
I felt the walls and roof bare down on me, like it had been when we first entered the cave. I kept moving forward, bumping my head from time to time. Now and again, I lit a match from the box to see what lay ahead. Every time, it was just more dark.
Panic swamped my excitement. I kept moving, lighting one match after another. The tunnel had narrowed to the size of a barrel. I knew it was not the way we’d come in, but I still hoped it would lead me out. Going up had to be a good thing. The second last match fizzled and died, I lay crying in the moss and dirt for a long, long time.
At last, I wiped away the water from my face. Some was moisture from the cave, but mostly were the tears of a nine-year-old boy. Rubbing them made me realise something, the blackness wasn’t as black anymore. I concentrated on the way ahead, I was sure it was brighter. Light must be coming in from somewhere. It had to be a way out.
I crawled on, and it was definitely getting brighter, but the walls were closing in all the time. I had to wriggle now, there was no space for anything more. The hint of light grew into a promise. Every inch forward made the glow stronger. I could feel the first hint of a breeze, and smell fresh air, but cave was now no bigger than a drain pipe. I stretched my hands out ahead of me and pulled myself forward by my fingers. My shoulders squeezed against the rocks and I fought them for every inch. Freedom was in front of me, I could smell it, I could nearly see it.
One more push and I’d break through. I squirmed hard, but a rock above me shifted, crashing down on my lower-back. I tried to free myself, but the rock was jammed in its new position. I couldn't go forwards, nor backwards. I couldn't even take a deep breath. I kicked my feet behind me, and my hands stretched out in front, looking for a hand hold. Uncontrollable panic gripped me. I beat my fists against the rocks, tearing my skin, as I fought with every ounce I had. Only exhaustion stilled my body, and my mind. My fingers touched the match box and with trembling fingers, I struck it. It flared into brilliant life and lit up my tiny world. Just ahead of me lay a bunch of withered fingers, covered in blackened leathery skin, tipped with long broken finger nails, stretching out towards me. A lifeless skull framed with wisps of wild hair screamed silently in my direction. As the last light my eyes would ever see faded, my screams filled the dark.